Positive Education Summit

Happy children in front of a chalkboard.


One of the best things about being the editor-in-chief of Live Happy is meeting amazing professionals who are dedicated to increasing the wellbeing of others. This was particularly true at an international meeting that I attended recently and report on here:

Applying positive psychology principles to education gave birth to the term positive education and to the Positive Education Summit held in the UK earlier this month. Summit leaders Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and James O’Shaughnessy, Managing Director, Floreat Education in the UK, gathered delegates from around the world to share their experience, research and insights on positive education. A special meeting with British government officials at No. 10 Downing St. kicked off the summit and then continued at Wellington College, which hosted the three-day event.

Support for positive education dominated presentations made by the delegates. University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth shared research that links character strength and student grade-point average, energy and class participation. David Levin, KIPP co-founder and superintendent, KIPP New York, talked about how teachers at his school lace lessons with questions aimed at building character and self-esteem. Stephen Meek, principal of Geelong Grammar School in Victoria, Australia, shared his school’s fully integrated model in which staff and faculty receive well-being training, and classes have well-being teachings interwoven into them. Ian Morris, Wellington College instructor and author of Learning to Ride Elephants, explained his program: Students are taught the basics of physical health, positive relationships, perspective, engagement and living sustainably as well as finding meaning and purpose. Kaiping Peng, professor at Tsinghua University, China, shared that 150 schools in China now teach positive education and the Chinese Positive Psychology Association made positive education it’s No. 1 priority.

There was enthusiastic debate during the meeting with various viewpoints on the use of common words versus academic terms to define and describe positive education. The need to articulate positive education to multiple, diverse stakeholders and the context of local, national and cultural differences were projected into commentary and questions. While there was agreement about the premise of positive education, there was less unity on those topics. Delegates underscored the need for continued discussion on these and other important issues.

Results from the summit:

  1. Awareness of positive education was raised in the UK: The meeting with government officials resulted in the request for a white paper on the subject.
  2. A new network of positive education experts was created: The delegates committed to planning a global positive education event.
  3. Examples of positive education at work were shared: Look for some of those stories here in the near future.

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